MUNAI, Lanao del Norte, Philippines?During the 16th century, competition to control the source and trading route of spices resulted in wars among major colonial powers in Europe.
Today, the commercial production of a Maranao condiment made of traditionally cultivated spices is helping rebuild the lives of villagers in the town of Munai in Lanao del Norte. The people have been constantly displaced by a conflict whose political underpinnings date back to that era of colonialism.
?Palapa? is a condiment principally made of stewed scallion bulbs locally known as ?sibujing? in Visayan or ?sakurab? in Maranao. The thinly sliced scallion bulbs and ginger, ?luy-a? in Visayan, are caramelized by slow cooking and mixed with chillies and little coconut oil.
According to Nahara Mutia, an enterprise development officer with the local government, palapa is a regular feature of Maranao cuisine. It can come with whatever dish or even serve as main dish for families who are experiencing hard times, she said.
?In every Maranao kitchen, you will always find sibujing and luy-a,? Mutia said.
Efforts to produce and sell palapa started in 2007 among 25 women who formed the Munai Palapa Producers Association. Their initiative was boosted by assistance from the Actions for Conflict Transformation for Peace Program (Act for Peace), a joint initiative of the government and the United Nations to rehabilitate war-torn areas in Mindanao.
Help came in the immediate aftermath of the bloody attacks launched by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the towns of Kauswagan and Kolambugan in Lanao del Norte in August 2008 following the botched signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) that could have granted the Moro people a self-governance territory.
The agreement was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Act for Peace provided the early recovery assistance to the people of Munai who fled their homes and communities to safety.
Mutia said the palapa came to mind as a product ?we are really sure we are good at making.?
?We also knew there are only very few who are engaged in marketing palapa,? she added. Besides, the ingredients are easily available.
Farmers in eight barangays of Munai were given support so they could start planting sibujing and luy-a in the hilly areas of their farms. The produce would be dedicated supply for the local palapa producers.
Mutia said the local government also encouraged planting in the communal gardens of the town?s 26 barangays.
As a sign of a more determined push, the women?s association registered before the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and received their certificate on July 27, 2009.
That year, the Munai palapa gained the attention of local marketers and trade officials as a ?most promising product? in the ?One-Town, One-Product (OTOP)? fair in Lanao del Norte. This year, it was adjudged the ?most improved product? and was among the acclaimed OTOP items in the Northern Mindanao Trade Fair and the Mindanao Trade Fair.
At present, the group can produce 100 bottles of palapa in a week, but the output is considered low. Mutia said work is rotated among members who are grouped in fives.
Production remains at cottage level because a processing center would require some P1.3 million?P500,000 for the building and P800,000 for cooking equipment. By then, the association would be able to apply for a certification from the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD), which can further increase their marketing opportunities.
Because of the increasing popularity of the product, Mutia is apprehensive of the women?s capacity to cope with larger orders.
Today, they also produce the tiyolo-a-niyog, which is added with toasted coconut grate. Both are packaged in 220-gram bottles. Pure palapa sells at P100 per bottle when retailed while tiyolo-a-niyog costs P90 per bottle.